January is the time for goals and resolutions. We start the year with a list of things we want to accomplish, such as finding enough time for our personal lives while balancing our teaching responsibilities. Unfortunately, as time passes, most of our resolutions fall by the wayside. As I reflect on my past goal-setting activities, they appear to be somewhat formulaic: Be specific, set a time frame, build a support team, etc. Those are great ideas, but I seem to need a bit more.
Several years ago, I attended a workshop and learned a strategy that transformed my teaching. The speaker talked about the difference between listing goals or resolutions and setting a vision for your life. I’d like to share the process, especially since I have seen it transform my own teaching and that of other colleagues.
You’ll be writing a “vision letter.” Start out simple, choosing who will receive the letter. Next, date the letter, but there’s a twist: Rather than using today’s date, use June 30, 2019, as the date on your letter. For the purposes of this activity, it’s the end of June. I want you to project yourself to the end of the school year. Your second semester is over, and it was the best semester you have ever experienced. No matter if it is your first year, or your 21st, this has been your best five months as a teacher—ever!
Consider what happened to make it your best semester. What did your students do differently? How did they learn and grow? How did they go beyond what they had done in the past? How did you help them achieve more than they dreamed? Describe specific details. Remember, you are writing this in the past tense because you are imagining it has already taken place. Here’s a sample of what one teacher wrote:
This was my best year ever, and that surprised me! As you know, I felt overwhelmed at the start of the school year, especially since I had so many students with special challenges. Through the fall, I never felt like I did enough to help each one, but I was doing everything I could. Over winter break, I was so tired and defeated that it was hard to enjoy the holidays. But on New Year’s Day, everything changed. I decided to write a vision letter, and it prompted me to focus on all the positive things that would happen. Guess what? Although there were still challenges, I had a great winter and spring with my students.
When my students came back, they wrote their own vision letters and we shared our visions. We all decided to start the new year with a clean slate, and we made a commitment that we would all work together to do our best. There was still a need for differentiating instruction, but I found some key tools that helped me plan more effectively and efficiently. I also tapped into other teachers’ strengths, asking for their help and expertise. Using formative assessment more consistently helped me better adjust my instruction, and student learning increased. We celebrated successes through journals and posters, which also made a difference, especially when my students shared them with their parents and families. The atmosphere became more upbeat, and we all worked together to learn as much as we could. It was amazing to see the results. I simply didn’t realize that we needed to take some time to determine what a good year would be like. I’ll never start another school year without a vision letter!
Does anything in Jasmine’s letter resonate with you? Vision letters are designed to be emotional, and they are an effective motivational tool. You’ll notice that her letter doesn’t include a list of specific steps and timelines. Although we do need goals and resolutions that are more detailed, if we don’t first catch a vision of success, goals simply become tasks.
As you start 2019, take a bit of time to create your own vision. Acknowledge your frustrations and challenges, but dream big. Imagine that you have been successful; describe what happened and share how it felt. Take as much or as little time as you need, and choose your own format. I do this activity with teachers all the time, and they enjoy adding a creative twist. Some draw pictures or make collages; others write songs, poems or raps. Add any specific goals or resolutions that will help you accomplish your vision. You are only limited by yourself, and if you take the time, you might be surprised. Just as Jasmine did, you might choose to ask your students to write vision letters, finish a sentence starter or create vision posters. Finally, reread your letter each week. This not only will help keep you motivated but also will help you focus on the positive aspects of your teaching experience.
Hear more from Barbara Blackburn: watch her webinar now on-demand, Rigor Is NOT a Four-Letter Word: Reaching Higher Levels of Learning.
Learn more: www.barbarablackburnonline.com